Friday, February 22, 2013

Equitable Stroke Control - A Postmortem

          The previous post, What Does the New Equitable Stroke Control Mean for Golf?,  struck a responsive chord at Golf Digest.  Jerry Tarde, editor of Golf Digest, lifted many parts of the paper for his column entitled “A formula for slow play and higher scores.”[1]  Tarde used the material without either attribution or compensation (if you don’t count an autographed copy of a book he had ghost written for Sam Snead).
I did not take offense, however, for here was a major golf publication at least questioning the USGA.  I was further encouraged when Golf Digest implied it would be conducting an independent review of ESC93.  In a letter to Mr. Tarde, I urged:

"Golf Digest to demand to see the three studies the USGA claimed supported  ESC93. I believe you will find that while the USGA will trumpet the findings of studies supporting their position, they will not make these studies available for peer review.  I hope you will be made privy to these studies so Golf Digest could come to an independent and informed evaluation of the new ESC procedure. [2]

            I was to be greatly disappointed by Golf Digest’s effort.  Golf Digest assigned the story to Guy Yocom.  Yocom did not review any USGA study, and his article was simply a listing of unchallenged replies by Dean Knuth, Director of Handicapping for the USGA.[3]  Yocom’s article lacked insight and demonstrated an interview style better suited to People Magazine.  An example will demonstrate Yocom’s deficiency:

                        Question by Yocom: Since even low handicappers now can score a 6 on a par 3, won’t this be a boon for sandbaggers?

                        Knuth: No…Par 3s are where golfers receive the fewest number of handicap   strokes, where 99 percent of players are likely to try their hardest to score well.

            Now there are two problems with Knuth’s reply.  First, there is no reason to believe a golfer’s effort on a hole is related to whether he gets a handicap stroke.  Second, and more importantly, Knuth is charging that 99 percent of all golfers are unethical since they violate the basic precept of the handicap system that “every player will endeavor to make the best score he can at each hole.”[4]  Knuth’s defense rests on the lack of integrity of the American golfer.  Poor Yocom did not identify either problem.[5]
            Yocom did a follow-up article that was equally unsatisfactory.  He even made a small technical error in trying to explain why the ESC was changed.  When I pointed out the error, it was apparently too much for Yocom.  He wrote:

                       "Just a crazy, giddy guess on my part, but is there a Dealey Plaza (where you live)…Has your company conducted any research on the subject (ESC).  I would be glad to look it over, as you must have some basis for your persistent opinion opposing the new ESC."[6]

I had to respond in a letter to Jerry Tarde:[7]

                       "Though he does not write with great clarity, Yocom seems to liken me to Lee  Harvey Oswald.  I find this personally offensive and beyond the pale of  responsible debate.  It is unfortunate when a representative of your fine magazine does not bring intelligence or insight to an issue, but only personal invective.

                        Mr. Yocom claims that I oppose ESC.  He apparently had not read my paper.  What I oppose is change that does not represent progress.  I do not believe the USGA proved any substantive benefit from the new ESC…The new ESC may be a success as (the USGA) claims.  That judgment, however, should have rested upon an independent evaluation of the data Yocom had promised in March.  Yocom’s January article failed to deliver on that promise."

            The net result was Yocom still gets a press pass to the U.S. Open, and I canceled my subscription to Golf digest.
Despite the USGA claims of great support, ESC93 did not make many people happy.  The USGA was to try a different ESC in 1997.  Currently, ESC consists of a hybrid system.  Low handicappers are now allowed to take a double bogey on any hole.  This was in answer to the many complaints that taking a 6 on a par five was not equitable.  All handicaps of ten and above have the same limits as ESC93.  No research was ever published on why low handicap players should be treated differently than high handicapped players.  It appears the USGA Handicap Procedure Committee was only responding to a political problem with low handicapped players rather than seeking a just solution to the ESC problem.  Given the track history of this most political institution, such a resolution should come as no surprise.

[1] Jerry Tarde, “A formula for slow play and higher scores,” Golf Digest, Trumbull, CT, June 1993.
[2] Letter from the author to Jerry Tarde, January 15, 1993.
[3] Guy Yocom, “Why your handicap will change this year,” Golf Digest, Trumbull, CT, March 1993
[4] USGA Handicap Manual, p. 1
[5] Yocom has no technical background and could not review any studies if the USGA gave them to him.  His principle background is that of ghost writer.  He wrote a book with Corey Pavin on shotmaking shortly before Mr. Pavin’s career started to ebb.  Therefore, the lack of analysis and evaluation is the fault of those at Golf Digest who assigned Yocom to this inquiry.
[6] Letter to the author from Guy Yocom, December 15, 1993
[7] Letter from the author to Jerry Tarde, December 27, 1993.

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